Wisconsin may soon have deal on bill targeting drunken drivers

| 12/4/2009

While there is often debate about how to make traveling safer, few argue that reducing incidences of drunken driving would greatly improve safety on roadways.

Intent on making travel on Wisconsin’s more than 236,000 miles of roads safer for motorists, truckers and others, the state’s lawmakers could gather later this month to settle their differences on legislation that would toughen rules on drinking and driving.

Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation. According to state figures, alcohol-related crashes killed 234 people and injured more than 4,000 people in 2008. Mothers Against Drunk Driving have cited lax drunken driving laws as contributing factors.

Legislative leaders have largely reached a compromise on two proposals intended to deter people from driving under the influence. They have instructed lawmakers to keep their schedules open Dec. 16 for a possible special session to vote on the effort to overhaul the state’s drunken driving rules.

The Democratic-led Senate and Assembly approved their own versions of the bill. The biggest stumbling block has been funding. Senators have been vying to require drunken drivers and other convicted criminals to pay new fees to cover the cost of the tougher enforcement. The Assembly version would not.

The bill sponsors have agreed to pay the costs with increased fees on offenders, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Both of the original versions would make driving drunk a felony on a fourth offense within five years instead of waiting until the fifth offense in some cases. A first-time offender would face a $300 fine only if a child under 16 is in the vehicle.

Ignition interlocks would be required for repeat offenders, as well as first-time offenders with blood-alcohol levels of at least 0.15 percent – nearly double the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Interlocks are hooked up to the ignition of vehicles. Once such a device is installed, a driver must blow into a mouthpiece, which measures the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath. If the driver blows clean, the car will then start; if not, it won’t budge.

In addition, second- and third-time offenders could reduce their time behind bars by completing drug and alcohol treatment.

Once Senate and Assembly lawmakers reach agreement on the provisions in the legislation, it can be forwarded to Gov. Jim Doyle, who is expected to sign it.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.